‘We Were Working 100-Hour Weeks,’ Red Dead Redemption 2 Head Writer Says, Then Clarifies

‘We Were Working 100-Hour Weeks,’ Red Dead Redemption 2 Head Writer Says, Then Clarifies

It’s long been an open secret in the video game industry that the prestigious developer Rockstar embraces overtime, and a new quote from company co-founder Dan Houser about Red Dead Redemption 2 caused controversy this morning by suggesting that it took 100-hour weeks to make.

In a new elaboration to Kotaku, however, Houser said the quote had been misinterpreted, saying such a workload is not required at the studio.

In a feature published yesterday by New York Magazine about the making of Rockstar’s ambitious cowboy game, which comes out October 26, Houser talked about working “100-hour weeks” en route to completion of Red Dead Redemption 2.

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Here’s the full quote:

The polishing, rewrites, and reedits Rockstar does are immense. “We were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018, Dan says. The finished game includes 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, and many more lines of code. Even for each RDR2 trailer and TV commercial, “we probably made 70 versions, but the editors may make several hundred. Sam and I will both make both make lots of suggestions, as will other members of the team.”

When asked by Kotaku to elaborate, Rockstar sent over a statement, also attributed to Dan Houser:

There seems to be some confusion arising from my interview with Harold Goldberg. The point I was trying to make in the article was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted, which was mostly what we talked about, not about the different processes of the wider team.

After working on the game for seven years, the senior writing team, which consists of four people, Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, Lazlow and myself, had, as we always do, three weeks of intense work when we wrapped everything up. Three weeks, not years. We have all worked together for at least 12 years now, and feel we need this to get everything finished. After so many years of getting things organised and ready on this project, we needed this to check and finalise everything.

More importantly, we obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way. Across the whole company, we have some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project, or their particular work, and we believe that passion shows in the games we release.

But that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this. Lots of other senior people work in an entirely different way and are just as productive – I’m just not one of them! No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard. I believe we go to great lengths to run a business that cares about its people, and to make the company a great place for them to work.

Rockstar consists not just of Houser’s office in New York City, which also houses the rest of the leadership team, but also of several studios in California, Boston, the UK, and elsewhere across the world.

To put things in perspective, an 100-hour week would average out to around 14 hours a day for seven days. The deleterious effects of these kind of hours have been well-documented.

Excessive overtime – or “crunch” – has long been a reality in the video game industry, one we’ve written about extensively. Although some companies have taken strides to reduce or eliminate crunch, many have not, with some top video game creators insisting that the only way to make the best games in the world is to put in extra hours.

In fact, some of the world’s top game studios, like Rockstar, Naughty Dog (Uncharted), and CD Projekt Red (The Witcher), are well known for embracing crunch.

In early 2010, as Rockstar was preparing to release the first Red Dead Redemption, a group of spouses of employees at Rockstar’s San Diego studio, which was the lead team on that game and is on this next one, wrote an open letter decrying work conditions at the studio.

The claims, which echoed across the video game industry, included 12-hour-average workdays, mandatory Saturdays, and the reduction of benefits.

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  • “Crunch” wouldn’t be so bad if at the end of it the studios went “We acknowledge what you did for us and the sacrifices you made for us here is something” Instead of, “K, Thanks your fired now”

    • The DLC cycle (including launch DLC) is what what keeps a lot of staff employed when they would have been let go otherwise. It’d be nice if gamers had a better appreciation for how game and DLC budgeting works.

        • I think day one DLC is perfectly fine. The problem is if content budgeted for the main game is separated out, which is absolutely a shady practice that some companies have done, but it’s a lot less common than people think. When they’re budgeted separately they’re separate products. The idea that buying the base game entitles the buyer to everything the company did before release is bizarre and doesn’t exist in any other industry.

    • Yeah, nah, crunch is pure bullshit no matter how it is handled. Unions in the videogames industry are long overdue. This shit needs to be stopped.

      • Yeah,Everyone has a story or two about having to stay late or work the occasional Saturday.

        But doing it every week for months is total BS.

        It should be pointed out that I am an engineer though, funny thing about us engineers is most of us are really quite lazy.

      • Its leaking into general software development too. i recently quit a job I had only been in for a couple of months because management expected *everyone* to regularly do 70+ hour weeks , whilst openly stating they had no intention of stopping the practice of completely undercutting developer project estimates. We’d say “This will take three weeks”, and they’d say “Now its one week” and we’d have to be staying in to sometimes 10-11 pm at night. The fact there was nobody there over 30 should have been the give away, older workers would never put up with that crap, we know better. But in the end i gave the boss some pretty sharp words and resigned. The guy was a former games company CEO, by the way.

  • Touting that you have a business that cares about its people is fine but I think people should be asking why employees feel the need to put in 100 hour weeks. I’ve worked with plenty of people who take their work home with them but this kind of feels like PR speak for “You don’t have to work 100 hours a week but we’re sure going to feel more inclined to continue your employment after release if you do.”

    • It’s not necessarily a sense of need. I’ve done hundred-hour weeks entirely voluntarily before, because the unit of work was something I was really enjoying working on and I wanted to keep pushing and improving it. It’s not always because of some sense of company pressure, especially if it’s something you love doing.

      • I hear exactly what you’re saying , but the cynic in me remembers previous employers that would tell you it’s totally fine to go home on time while strongly implying you’re in the bad books for doing so.

        • It’s definitely more company pressure than voluntary for most people, the seniors tend to be more voluntary. I hope I didn’t imply it was all good, mandatory crunch sucks. I just wanted to share that I’ve done it of my own accord sometimes too.

          • @sir_travelot Is there something you don’t like about what I said? I’m happy to discuss it with you.

  • I don’t see any issue with the clarification, it seems pretty clear – he (and others) have a lot of passion for this game series, and by their own choice, put in extra hours near the end of the project in order to do as much as possible to meet their desires for the product. I.E they take pride in their work.

    My boss hasn’t asked me to work a lot of overtime in over a decade now, yet just not so long ago I found myself finally completing something I was working on, looking over at the clock and noticing it was nearly 3 hours after E.O.B – I was just enjoying what I was working on so much that I lost track of time.

    I’m not denying that crunch happens, or is not requested sometimes, but yes, the flip side does exist, where people enjoy their work and put extra time in just because they want to.

  • It blows my mind that people now have to clarify and defend “hard work” as to not upset the sea of mediocrity out there that lack the passion and care for their work to invest so much time.

    These game projects are 3-5 projects, then it’s done. You’re only as good as your last project, so why wouldn’t you want to give it your all?

    Not everyone works expecting a pat on the back and gratuitous thanks for creating something they’re proud of and believe in.

    • They are clarifying that they don’t exploit their salaried employees. They are not doing so very convincingly either.

    • Why wouldn’t you want to give it all? Because maybe burning out, getting physically sick, having your relationships suffer, crashing your car on the way home etc etc etc is not worth the bonus (if there even is one) or ‘professional cred’. I hope you’re never in a position to sprout that kind of workplace ethic to impressionable employees.

  • People bitch about working extra hours to get it done by release date
    People bitch about games that get released that don’t feel polished because they didn’t spend enough time on it
    People bitch about games that get delayed to get it ‘just right’
    People bitch about games that have extra DLC that comes months later that should have been released with the main game
    People bitch about when you put so much content into your game the file size it too large to download.
    People bitch when there’s not enough to do in your game
    People bitch when there’s too much stuff to do in your game

    Why would anyone get into game development, you never seem to win.

  • Surely somewhere in there, Rockstar could have hired a few extra folks to work on RDR II while Houser and his pals had Iranian Beluga caviar food fights in their swimming pools of Dom Perignon paid for by Shark Cards, couldn’t they?

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